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Speak out, don’t freak out

Every month, Martha Roberts invites you to road-test research around feeling good

by Psychologies

It's time to speak up for yourself...

1. The Project

Complaining is something many of us shy away from – but having a gripe in the correct way can enhance wellbeing.

2. The Aim

Standing up for yourself can actually bring greater happiness.

3. The Theory

When a meal you’ve ordered in a restaurant arrives cold, would you keep schtum or send it back?

A 2015 survey found that, although 90 per cent of us believe that you should speak up if you are unhappy with a service, just one third of us actually would. One school of thought says complaining is bad for our health, making it more likely that we’ll think negatively, and increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol. And it’s not just our own complaining that can be detrimental.

Professor Robert Sapolsky, author of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers (St Martin’s Press, £10.99) says that being exposed to just 30 minutes of complaining a day (including seeing it on TV) can cause your brain to have the same emotional reaction as being stressed.

On the other hand, complaining in the right way may be benefi cial to your health. In a 2014 study by Professor Robin Kowalski, she and her colleagues found that those who complained with the hope of achieving a certain result tended to be happier, more mindful people than those who simply complained for the sake of it.

As she puts it: ‘Complaining in a strategic way is an intentional activity that can lead to greater happiness.’

Now try it out

  • Have specific outcomes in mind. For example, if your partner lets you down, explain why you’re unhappy in that instance, listen to their reasons and, even if you don’t like their response, don’t dwell on it. Turning your complaint into a nagging session will make you feel more aggrieved, plus they may ‘zone out’ and not hear you at all.
  • Change your view of the situation. For example, if a shop assistant rolls her eyes at you, consider why she may have done that. It could be that she’s having a bad day and is fi nding it di cult to be positive.
  • Think about your role before you complain. How have you contributed to the situation? Could you have communicated better?
  • Distance yourself from chronic complainers. Excuse yourself when negative conversations begin – if you can, go outside for a walk or fi nd somewhere quieter. Before you go back in, think of something positive to help you defl ect the negativity.

Martha Roberts is an award-winning UK health writer and mental-health blogger at mentalhealthwise.com

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Photograph: iStock

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